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Kansas lawmaker to non-Christian constituents: I'll "try and convert you"
State Sen. Mark Steffen was asked how he'd incorporate non-Christian views into his decision-making process
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Faced with one of the simplest questions a politician ever hears—how will you represent me in the legislature?—a conservative Kansas lawmaker told a coalition of religiously diverse people that he would “try and convert” them to Christianity so they would see things his way.
Last month, a Kansas-based non-profit group called Loud Light, which “engages, educates, and empowers individuals from underrepresented populations to build community power,” held a lobbying event at the state capitol, where members could meet with their elected officials.
One of those meetings was with State Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican from Hutchinson who took office in 2021. Steffen is a Christian Nationalist who said in a 2020 Ballotpedia Candidate Connection survey that one of his key messages to constituents was “God! We are a Christian nation, State, and Counties. Our rule of law is built on Christian values. Our successes are a result of these realities.”
He has also referred to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly as an “atheist” for her pandemic-related actions during a tirade in which he also referred to church/state separation as a “liberal sham” that has “no basis” under the law. (Gov. Kelly is Catholic.)
The point is: The members of Loud Light have very little in common with Steffen. But cause-based groups like theirs routinely visit with elected officials from both parties, present their issues, and hope that the face-to-face interactions make a difference. Maybe they do; maybe they don’t. But politicians know this is part of the job description. (Several years ago, I participated in a similar event and met with my then-Republican member of Congress. She didn’t agree with my position. She still sat there and listened to my group’s concerns.)
During their meeting on March 16, Loud Light members asked Sen. Steffen how he incorporated his constituents’ views into his decision-making, especially given all his Christian Nationalist rhetoric. Group member Rija Nazir pointed out that she was a Muslim. Did that matter to Steffen?
We know what his response was because there’s audio of their meeting:
STEFFEN: … It ultimately comes down to my belief on what the majority think.
NAZIR: And you said that you do legislate from a more biblical background. How do you, kind of, factor that in sometime…? Because, obviously, not everybody does come from that background. I know I’m a Muslim woman, and there are people who are atheist. So what would you say to those people who are kind of against a more biblical approach to certain laws? Like, how would you justify that?
STEFFEN: Well, I would be happy to try and convert you.
If that was a joke, I have no clue what the punchline is. It’s utterly inappropriate for an elected official and completely dismissive of the valid point Nazir was raising. Steffen made it clear he doesn’t give a damn what his non-Christian constituents think because—let’s face it—he doesn’t believe they ought to have any say in the government. All that matters is his interpretation of the Bible.
When asked by a reporter for the Kansas Reflector to explain his comments, Steffen honored Jesus… by lying. He denied ever saying the thing he was recorded saying.
“That is not true,” Steffen said in an April 26 interview. “That is a false statement, 100%. That’s all I got to say.”
That is true. 100%. It’s on tape. Steffen is a Christian liar. Nothing about his religion ever taught him honesty and integrity matter, I guess.
Nazir has since released this statement in response to Steffen’s bigotry:
Subtle and overt forms of Islamophobia are not new phenomena to U.S. Muslims, but the harm caused never grows easier to endure. Senator Mark Steffen’s attempt to use his own public office to undermine faiths protected by our First Amendment truly shocked me. I was taken aback by the swift, close-minded response to my question as well as the condescending demeanor indicating I should agree.
I’ll be honest: I’m not shocked or taken aback. This is what I’ve come to expect from Steffen and his ilk. They look down upon non-Christians because they believe laws ought to be written by conservative Christians in a government that honors their faith and no others. They fantasize about living in a theocracy while pretending to defend democracy. They claim to love the Constitution while rewriting and reinterpreting the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Loud Light has also sent a letter to Senate President Ty Masterson urging him to condemn Steffen’s remarks:
On behalf of the people of our great state, we urge you to honor our constitutional values today by issuing a statement denouncing Senator Mark Steffen’s actions on March 16th, 2023, where he abused the power of his office by telling a group of young Kansas citizens that they would try to be converted to Christianity when asked how he would adequately represent Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist constituents. Additionally, we urge you to work with Senator Steffen in issuing a public apology to those affected and a commitment to the right of religious freedom for all, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution, while acting in his official capacity as a Kansas State Senator.
Don’t hold my breath for Masterson or Steffen to take anything back.
In fact, Steffen is already treating this whole controversy as an act of religious persecution, claiming everyone is “attacking” him for being Christian:
They’re not attacking him. They’re quoting him. There’s a difference. Throwing more Jesus at the problem isn’t going to resolve a problem he created by confusing the legislature with church.
But this is what happens when Republicans elect a wannabe preacher rather than someone who cares about good government. They get someone who doesn’t give a damn about the people in his community unless they fall into his narrow window of acceptable views.
The fact is if any non-Christian politician ever dared to repeat Steffen’s comments to a Christian constituent, it would receive non-stop coverage in right-wing media and there would be numerous calls for that politician to resign.
Steffen won’t face any kind of punishment because conservative Christians routinely get a pass on basic human decency. And no one in their religious circles will ever hold them accountable for it.
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